High Gear: Native Eyewear Ward polarized sport sunglasses
Ward polarized sunglasses, $149
Size: Fits small to large faces (8x3x3 inches)
Material: Plastic frame
Weight: 0.3 ounces
Accessories: Hard case, soft case, low-light SportFlex lenses, polarized green Reflex lenses
For more info on the Ward, see the Native Eyewear website at nativeeyewear.com.
Sunglasses are like shoes: Some are fashionable, some are functional and some are both, but they’re usually the first two things I notice when someone walks past me on the street.
I’m not sure why, really. I don’t pay much immediate attention to other accessories — say, jewelry like rings and watches and necklaces — but shoes and sunglasses just demand my attention. Maybe it’s because both shoes and sunglasses come in so many different styles for just about any budget, and, sometimes, it’s hard to truly tell the difference from a distance.
In short, looks aren’t everything when buying sunglasses (duh), but it’s not always easy to justify spending upwards of $100 when all you need is a bit of retina protection. I have plenty of friends who consciously avoid name-brand glasses because they: A) know it’s inevitable they’ll lose or sit on an expensive pair, or B) simply oppose spending that much money on anything so trivial.
The name-brand conundrum
You know what I’m talking about. Just look at high-end frames from two of the big boys, Oakley and Ray-Ban (the Saucony and Gucci of the sunglasses industry). Few models cost less than $100, and some, like the Oakley Radarlock Path, sell for a cool $300.
These days, knock-off brands have perfected the art of imitation. And why not? It’s often more reasonable to buy five pairs of $15 imitations than a single pair of the real deal. That way, you can lose or break at least four without feeling the gut-punch of tossing away cash on lenses and frames.
But are name-brand glasses worth it?
I’ll argue yes, especially when those glasses serve a purpose, like the Ward ($149) from Native Eyewear. It’s one of the Denver-based company’s newest models, designed right here in CO by climbers, hikers and mountain bikers. Much like its counterpart, the Flatiron, it’s even named for a classic rock face on the Front Range.
For starters, the Ward is a pretty damn attractive pair of sunglasses, and that’s coming from someone who prefers big, fat frames like The Jam from Dragon. The Ward fits sleek and snug to your face, without slipping or sliding or cutting off your field of view (as cheap-o glasses inevitably will). I also like the cam-action hinges that connect the frame to the earpiece. After nearly two months of use, they’re still as poppy as the day I pulled them from the package.
Now, understand that the Ward is a sport model — not a lifestyle model — and so the technical specs are the reason it runs nearly $150. Earlier this fall, I took early-morning mountain bike rides through Mayflower Gulch near Copper and French Gulch outside of Breck. Both areas are lined with trees, which can be alternately dark and blinding when the sun peeks through. I rode with normal, non-polarized lenses on the way up both, then switched to the Ward with Native’s green polarized lens on the way down.
The difference was truly night and day. Polarized lenses highlight cut through UV rays to make features like rocks, ditches and ruts pop, even in low light in variable conditions. The Ward lenses worked like a charm. Even on a fast descent, I noticed a few black-water puddles that I assumed were nothing more than shadows on the climb. The glasses stayed comfortably glued to my face through the rough stuff, and even my riding partner was impressed at how well they worked.
Now that biking season is over and skiing season is about to begin, the Ward is a good investment. Again, polarized lenses help hidden features pop, and that’s a blessing on the hill — no matter how good the conditions are. It even comes with a set of interchangeable low-light lenses for overcast days.
Would I buy the Ward? That’s a tougher question, and it comes down to personal preference. Again, I like my glasses big and fat and flashy, and the Ward is more on the functional side of the sunglasses scale.
Let’s put it this way: For a lazy day around town, I’ll stick with my Dragons. But, for a mountain bike ride or backcountry ski trip, when performance is paramount, I’ll pack the Ward.
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